Monday, August 25, 2014

Dear Candidate, Please Don't Call Me

I've been involved with political campaigns in one way or another since I was 14 years old, and I actually tried to make a living at it for a short time, until I realized I was losing with candidates I liked and electing people I wished I hadn't.  My friend, Joe Burke has correctly pointed out that once you turn a passion into a profession, a lot of the enjoyment quickly dissipates.

One of the things I remember in the 1960s and 70s was abbreviation for "get out the vote."  This involves spending months determining which likely voters are more likely to vote for your candidate, then making sure they get to the polls on election day, usually by phoning them to remind them and offer transportation if necessary.  It used to be a very fruitful and cost-effective endeavor that determined the outcome of many elections.

Fast forward to today, when many of us (especially younger voters) no longer have land lines, and the rest of us (even some with only mobile phones) are bombarded for the weeks leading up to the election by "robocalls"--recorded messages, often from the candidates themselves or from famous people supporting them--which urge us to vote for those candidates.  In addition, the GOTV process has been augmented by poll watchers who sit in the polling places and check off the names of every supporter when he or she votes, occasionally sending back the results to the candidate's headquarters.  If, like most of us, you don't vote until the evening, you are likely to receive several calls from someone reminding you that it's election day and you need to vote.

By the end of an election, after countless robocalls and reminders, you wish you had never purchased a phone.  I know this might sound petty, but there have been a few instances where this relentless bombardment has caused me to vote against a candidate that I otherwise may have supported.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when I called a candidate to offer my support, I was recognized for my experience and asked to help in several, meaningful ways.  Now that I am older and less involved on a daily basis, when I call to help a campaign, I usually get a callback from an 18-year-old who is excited to possibly enlist another person to call voters on election day.  I have even agreed to do so on a few occasions, only to hear people like myself begging me to stop calling them.

Here is the truth about these calls--I don't like them, and neither do most people.  In addition, it is an absurdly old-fashioned way to get out the vote.  Do you mean to tell me that in this age of social media, Twitter, emails, text messages, and hundreds of other points of contact, you still think that calling someone is effective?  It is is simply bothersome.  Anyone who likes these calls is probably a shut-in who won't go to the polls anyway.

So I beg you, Mr. or Ms. Candidate, please don't ask me to call voters, and stop your people from calling me anymore. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

TV on Those "Other" Channels

I confess to being old enough to remember when there were only three television networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC), and ABC really didn't begin to take hold until I was nine.  The entertainment world has changed at an exponentially faster pace since then, and now, you can watch original programming through hundreds of viewing options including:
  • Broadcast networks like Fox and the CW.
  • Pay stations like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Starz, Encore, and Epix.
  • Cable stations including TBS, TNT, USA, AMC, FX, Disney, ESPN, A&E, Nickelodeon, BBC America, and Comedy Central.
  • Streaming video providers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Still, most Americans watch a majority of their weekly shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox.  HBO's shows have been the most critically acclaimed, and every year win a majority of the Emmy Awards, and Showtime's original programming has also been quite successful.  But I believe that many of the shows on the "other" channels are on par with or better than their more commercially successful counterparts.  I won't include some very good shows that have concluded their run or have been on the air for several years like Breaking Bad (AMC), Mad Men (AMC), Covert Affairs (USA), Suits (USA), Falling Skies (TNT), The Daily Show (Comedy Central), or Justified (FX). 

Instead, I'll focus on shows that premiered in 2012 or later.  Most of these shows are available on demand and/or through streaming video, and they are all on non-broadcast networks/stations other than HBO.  They include (alphabetically):

  • Graceland (USA): Starring a pair of actors who have also been successful on Broadway (Daniel Sunjata and Aaron Tveit), this is a very good but dark show about a group of undercover agents from different federal agencies who all share a beach house in Southern California.  The acting is good, the writing is generally crisp, and they tackle difficult topics like addiction and human trafficking.  The show is about to finish its second season.
  • House of Cards (Netflix): Yikes!  Kevin Spacey's character begins the series as an ambitious and ruthless US Congressman married to an equally ambitious woman played by Robin Wright.  What happens from there is a mostly believable examination of what goes on behind the scenes of American politics.  This is scarily good, and because it's from Netflix, they release each season (13 episodes) all at once.  You can't be blamed for locking yourself in a room for two days and watching them all in succession.  Of course, you're likely to emerge looking over your shoulder.
  • The Knick (Cinemax): The first three episodes have all been directed by Steven Soderbergh, and they star Clive Owen and Andre Holland as New York surgeons in 1900 dealing with pre-modern operating conditions,  Owen's character is a very complex addict, and Holland's is an African American doctor at a time when such people rarely existed.  If you don't mind watching surgery performed with the most basic instruments, this series is quite engrossing, and deals head-on with racism and sexism.
  • The Last Ship (TNT): This show takes place after most of the world's population has died from a virus.  The captain (played by Eric Dane), XO (played by Adam Baldwin), and crew of a battleship have not been infected, and they have in their company the doctor (played by Rhona Mitra) who may be able to find a vaccine.  Although occasionally a tad too military, this is a generally taut, involving, action series.  It is about to conclude its first season.
  • Legends (TNT): This is a brand new show (I'm writing this after the first episode) that looks very promising.  It stars actors from other successful TV series: Sean Bean (Game of Thrones), Ali Larter (Heroes), and Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars).  In it, Bean plays an undercover, FBI agent who is caused to question himself and his sanity.
  • Masters of Sex (Showtime):  About to complete its second season, this show documents (and Hollywoodizes) the story of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson as they developed their groundbreaking research into human sexuality.  Although it occasionally borders on soft porn, this series features excellent supporting performances by Beau Bridges, Allison Janney, Teddy Sears, Annaleigh Ashford, and Julianne Nicholson.
  • Murder in the First (TNT): Created by Stephen Bochco (remember him?) and Eric Lodal, this crime drama focuses on one, season-long investigation/trial.  The first season, which just ended, stars Taye Diggs, Kathleen Robertson (also outstanding in "Boss"), Richard Schiff, Steven Webber, Tom Felton, James Cromwell, and others.  It is well-written and very engrossing, as the lead detectives  struggle with their own demons while attempting to nail a killer.
  • Orange is the New Black (Netflix): Set in a women's prison, this show, created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds), stars Taylor Shilling as a middle class, white woman who got mixed up in a crime and lands in prison.  But the interesting aspect of this show is how each episode tells the backstory of one of the inmates.  As such, some episodes are better than others.  So far, two seasons have been released by Netflix.
  • Orphan Black (BBC America):  Count me as one of those people who is addicted to this Canadian-made, scifi-action series, if for no other reason than to watch the amazing Tatiana Maslany playing multiple roles--clones all learning about themselves, each other, and the circumstances that led them to be.  With outstanding, supporting performances by Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Dylan Bruce, this show has concluded two seasons, and is as entertaining as it is interesting.
  • Outlander (Starz): They have so far only shown the first episode of the series about  a married English combat nurse from 1945 (played by Caitriona Balfe) who suddenly finds herself in 1743.  I love these time-travel series, and this one seems smart and exciting.  It's set to record on my DVR.
  • Perception (TNT): In this show, Eric McCormack plays a schizophrenic professor of neuropsychiatry who is enlisted by an FBI agent (played by Rachel Leigh Cook) to use his skills and knowledge to help solve crimes.  While the crime drama part is interesting, what works best about this show is McCormack's ability to put a human face on mental illness and the difficulties faced by people with such illnesses.  It is about to conclude its third season.
  • The Strain (FX): Anyone familiar with Guillermo del Toro's work knows that he is comfortable with making his audience uncomfortable.  This show, which he co-created, is no exception, as a CDC investigator (played by Corey Stoll, who is also in the first season of House of Cards) teams up with a Holocaust survivor (played by David Bradley) to rid New York of a scourge that is part virus and part supernatural being.  Still in its first season, it is riveting, albeit very graphic.
  • Tyrant (FX): This show is about a California-based doctor (played by Adam Rayner), the son of a middle eastern dictator, who returns to his home country, with his family, to attend his nephew's wedding.  Upon arriving, he is thrown into family turmoil and government upheaval and decides to stay to help work things out.  Rather than treating all Muslims as terrorists, this show intelligently illustrates all sides of an internal conflict.  It is about to finish its first season.
Well, those are the shows I'll include right now, but if you have others you think are good, please let me know.  In the meantime, let me leave you with this; if you haven't seen the last appearance of Robert Morse in Mad Men, please do so (you can see it on YouTube at  I remember him as a younger man in Broadway musicals like "How to Succeed in Business," and this is a heartwarming revisit to those ageless talents.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

Last night, the world was saddened by the loss of Robin Williams.  I didn't know what to say about it until I read what my son, Gavin, posted on his Facebook page.  Here are his words, which are better than anything I could have written:

I know my voice is just one in a massive chorus this morning, but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't add it anyway. There are very few creative artists whom I would not even once hesitate to describe as geniuses. Robin Williams was one of them. He changed the face of comedy over and over again in things like Mork and Mindy, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, and even his tiny role in Nine Months, he brought tears to our eyes in mixed laughter and sorrow in brilliant masterpieces like Good Morning, Vietnam, Moscow on the Hudson, Dead Poets Society, and Good Will Hunting, he took us to magical worlds of imagination and wonder in movies like FernGully, Aladdin, Jumanji, What Dreams May Come, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Hook, and he brought us to dark and uncomfortable places in risky endeavors like The Fisher King, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and World's Greatest Dad. In many ways, he defined a generation.
We've lost a gem, a star, a hero who's life and work had a staggeringly positive impact on the world around him, and we should not lose anyone the way we lost him. Today I'll add my voice to the thousands of others quoting Walt Whitman: "O Captain! my Captain!"

Vote at the Supermarket

Until recently, most of us never heard of Charles and David Koch (pronounced like coke), the billionaire businessmen who founded "Americans for Prosperity."  However, these two men have quietly been funding a variety of efforts that make most Americans (including mainstream Republicans) cringe.

Those efforts include:
  • Spending 45 million dollars on political campaigns for extreme, right-wing and Tea Party candidates.
  • Promoting legislation that:
    • Helps companies avoid pollution-related fines.
    • Makes it difficult for minority citizens to vote.
  • Lobbying against universal health care and climate change legislation.
If you don't support these efforts (and most Americans do not), there are many ways to help, and various web sites have been set up to elicit your support.  However, the most basic, and easiest thing you can do involves something you already do on a regular basis--go to the supermarket.

The Koch family owns Koch Industries, and while most of their subsidiaries sell products to other businesses, one of those subsidiaries is Georgia Pacific, which makes consumer-oriented paper products.  So, all you have to do to hurt the Koch Brothers and their efforts to subvert the American political process is to stop buying products made by Georgia Pacific.  Those products include:
  • Brawny paper towels
  • Angel Soft toilet paper
  • Mardi Gras napkins and towels
  • Quilted Northern toilet paper and paper towels
  • Dixie paper plates, bowls, napkins and cups
  • Sparkle paper towels
  • Vanity Fair paper napkins, bowls, plates and tablecloths
This is not a major sacrifice, in that you can easily buy similar products made by Scott, Kimberly Clark (Kleenex), or a number of smaller companies.  Doing so is one way of helping America and yourself.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


During the past few weeks, CNN has been showing a series called "The Sixties."  If you ask many Americans today what images stand out to them about the 1960s, they'll cite flower children and psychedelic pictures.
But tonight, I watched the show about 1968, which many consider the most tumultuous year in American history.  I was 14 years old throughout most of age in which many young people begin to achieve a level of consciousness of events outside of their own sphere of influence.  I was no different.
1968 is the year when CNN postures that the Vietnam war began to be viewed by most Americans as "unwinnable."  It was also the year in which I held signs and canvassed door-to-door for Senator Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign.
I had grown up in a post-WWII America in which I was taught to revere the fact that we had always been on the "right" side of war, and we had always won.  That was what was so dismaying about Vietnam...we shouldn't have been there, it was wrong, and it was unwinnable.
1968 was the year when we watched Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy felled by bullets.  If JFK's assassination had signaled our end of innocence, then the loss of Martin and Bobby cemented that legacy.
Had I been older, I might have attended the protests outside of the Democratic convention in Chicago--protests that devolved into police violence unlike any of us had ever seen before.  But I watched it all on TV...that marvelous medium that had awoken us all from our collective, 50s slumber.
1968 also gave us President Nixon.  Those of you who have known me for long know that I've always thought of Nixon as our worst president, not so much because of his presidential actions, but because he caused so much irreparable harm to American politics and to the office.  I believe that today's lack of respect for the presidency, be it for Clinton, Bush, or Obama, is a direct result of Nixon's sordid political behavior.
So as I warily watched the CNN show about that year, I was thankful that I had lived through it, and indeed come of age around that time.  But I was sad that we had lost so much of our potential future and could only wonder, "what if..."
Looking back, the 1960s was no more about flower children than the 1970s was about disco.  Those are just images the media perpetuate--the same media that now bring us shows about those decades.  And as this particular show broke for an interim commercial break, I was jolted back to today's reality with the words, "The Sixties is sponsored by Koch Industries."